Ellen Port, 52, of St Louis, MO, is a mother, a high school teacher and golf coach – and now, a six-time USGA champion. With her victory in today’s championship match at the 52nd USGA Senior Women’s Amateur Championship at CordeValle Resort, Port rises to #4 on the all-time list of USGA Women’s champions. She is quick to point out, however, that she doesn’t place herself on the same level as the legends who are at or near the top of that list – names like Glenda Collett Vare & Hollis Stacy, both with six championships, Carol Semple Thompson and Anne Quast Sander with seven, and JoAnne Gunderson Carner, with eight.
Port’s opponent in the championship match, Susan Cohn, 50, of Palm Beach Gardens, FL, has less experience in USGA championship play, a fact that was not evident from the quality of her play. A four-year letter athlete in golf at the University of North Carolina, where she walked on as a freshman and earned a spot on the golf team, Cohn last played in a USGA championship event – the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship – 21 years ago. As a ten-time Palm Beach County champion, however, she brought a wealth of competition experience to bear at this event.
Cohn displayed some nerves on the opening holes, brought on partially, she said, by the presence of Golf Channel’s cameras, something she’s not used to at the Palm Beach County Championship. Shorter off the tee than her opponent, Cohn was playing longer shots into the greens for most of the match, which required her to exercise good course management, playing the best angles for her second and third shots.
Her nerves, and the resulting poor shots, set Cohn back to 3-down over the first three holes, despite good position in the fairway at the first, a 361-yard par-4, and the third, a 505-yard par 5. She put her second into the bunker short of the green on #1, and made a poor chip shot that left her a long, downhill putt.
On #2, a 152-yard par 3, Cohn and Port both bunkered their tee shots, but Port got out cleanly to 2 feet, while Cohn’s recovery shot flew to the back of the green, and she three-putted for double-bogey. On #3, a tough par-5, four shots saw her at the front edge of the green, and a chip and two putts put her at double-bogey to Port’s bogey, taking the match to 3-up Port after three holes.
Cohn steadied herself, and her game, after the rough start over the opening trio of holes, hanging tough and halving holes to keep herself within range of Port if there was a shift in the momentum of the match. The match stayed steady at 3-up for Port through the next nine holes before there was any change.
That run of halved holes was not without drama and missed opportunities, however. Port, though longer off the tee than her opponent, was sometimes off the fairway, and had to summon some great second or third shots to pull out pars and maintain her lead.
On hole #6, a split-fairway uphill par-5, Port went from a left fairway bunker to the left rough to the rough behind the green, and made a tough up and down for a one-putt par to halve the hole.
At the par-4 ninth hole, Port debated her club selection, pondering the consequences of the pinched-in left side which was in range of driver, or going right and being blocked by a sycamore that guards that side of the fairway. She chose 3-wood, but fanned her drive right and was faced with a second shot of 145 yards to the center of the green, off of bare dirt in an area being prepped for the upcoming Frys.com Open.
In the meantime, Cohn was in the fairway in good position, but she chunked her second shot, skimming a low runner that skipped off the back of the green. Port hit a tremendous second shot off of the bare area, lofting her ball over two trees that lay between her and the green, but coming up a few feet short of marvelous, in the right front bunker. Another great recovery shot put her on the green, no more than three feet past the hole. Cohn chipped on from behind the green, and both ladies one-putted the hole for par.
The eleventh hole, a 341-yard par-4, was the scene of another great par save by Port. Slightly uphill, and playing dead into the freshening breeze that had arisen as the match turned to the back nine, her tee shot drifted right and knuckled short, dropping into a right-side fairway bunker. Her shot from the bunker caught the lip of the bunker and dropped short, leaving her a 125-yard uphill approach to a flag that was tucked back-right.
Cohn hit her tee shot to the left rough, then hit a low-running 7-wood to the front fringe of the green. With Cohn in position to run a long putt up close to the flag location, and put herself in good position for a par, Port hit what was probably the best shot of the match, a high-arcing iron shot that dropped onto the upper tier no more than 4 feet from the hole – a shot that made the Golf Channel highlights later in the afternoon. Cohn ran her long put from the fringe up close, and both ladies putted-out for par – Port having pulled a great par save out of an unfortunate pair of opening shots.
The only crack in the defending champion’s game came at the 13th hole, a 348-yard uphill par-4. Both ladies had drives of about 210 yards, Cohn to the fairway with driver and Port to the left rough with a 3-wood.
Cohn’s approach came straight over the top of the flag, finishing some 30 feet past the center-front hole location. Port flew her second shot further up the elongated green, leaving herself a downhill putt of at least 65 feet. Her putt ran past and turned right, leaving her a 5-foot comebacker.
Cohn also ran her putt past, but made good on her second putt, rolling it up on the left edge, where it died into the hole. Port’s second putt slipped past on the opposite side, and she tipped in her third for a bogey, and her first lost hole of the match.
Cohn regained her three-hole advantage at the next hole, a well-bunkered downhill par-4, hitting her second shot to about 6 feet above the flag, missing a birdie by a hairsbreadth but rolling in for par, while Cohn, who had to chip on from just in front of the green, saw her par putt skirt the left lip without falling.
Both ladies birdied the par-5 fifteenth hole, Port with driver, 7-iron and 2 putts; Cohn with 5-wood, 7-wood, sand wedge and one putt. The birdie at #15 was clutch for Cohn, holding Port off for another hole – if she had won the match would have been closed out 4 and 3.
Cohn made a bold shot at the #16, a 117-yard par-3 that was playing downwind. Port played her tee shot to the right front lobe of the green, a safe play that avoided the bunker which guarded the front of the green and the back left flag. In a last-ditch effort to extend the match, Cohn took dead aim at the flag, but came in a bit too low to hold the green, skipping just off the backside into low rough. Port’s long uphill putt rolled six feet past the flag, but she rolled in the par putt, closing out the match 3 and 2.
Port’s win makes the first back-to-back winner of this event since Diane Lang in 2005 and 2006, and one of eight back-to-back winners in the tournament’s 52-year history. The win was a nice birthday present for Port, who celebrated her 52nd birthday on Saturday, the opening day of this, the 52nd USGA Senior Women’s Amateur. Port, Cohn , and the other quarter-finalists are exempt into the 2014 Senior Women’s Amateur, which will be played Sept. 13-18 at Hollywood Golf Club in Deal, NJ.
Cohn who hasn’t played in a USGA championship since 1992, entered the qualifier at Frenchman’s Reserve Country Club in Pam Beach Gardens, where she recently started working in the golf shop, medaling in the qualifying tournament and making it all the way to the championship match. After having entered the qualifier for this year’s tournament on a whim, her sterling finish at this year’s event relieves her of the necessity to qualify in 2014.
Along with the exemption into next year’s event and the 2013 Mid-Am, Port received a gold medal, and gets to take home the handsome Senior Women's Amateur trophy for a second year in a row.